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A conversation with Mo Rocca, the humorist and CBS Sunday Morning correspondent. He’s author of the new book “Mobituaries” about overlooked lives.
From The Reading List
Excerpt from “Mobituaries” by Mo Rocca
From the book MOBITUARIES: Great Lives Worth Reliving by Mo Rocca. Copyright © 2019 by Mo Rocca. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
The New Yorker: “‘Mobituaries,’ Mo Rocca’s Curious, Endearing Collection of Lives Forgotten” — “Some years ago, I was seated at a play next to Mo Rocca, the television and radio personality known for ‘The Daily Show’ and, more recently, ‘CBS Sunday Morning.’ Out of nowhere, he turned to me and asked, in his unmistakable voice, ‘Do you know anything about Venus flytraps?’ I’ve forgotten the tidbit about Venus flytraps that followed, or the reason they came up at all—what I remember is Rocca’s enthusiasm for knowing things for the sake of knowing them. That enthusiasm courses through his new book, ‘Mobituaries’ (written with Jonathan Greenberg), an offshoot of his podcast of the same name. A Mobituary, as Rocca defines it, is ‘an appreciation for someone who didn’t get the love she or he deserved the first time around.’ Some chapters are dedicated to ‘Forgotten Forerunners,’ such as Elizabeth Jennings (1827-1901), a black woman who boarded a whites-only streetcar in Manhattan, a century before Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat. Jennings sued the Third Avenue Railroad, and Rocca, who has a thing for obscure nineteenth-century Presidents, notes that her lawyer was the twenty-four-year-old Chester A. Arthur.
“Obituaries tell us about lives lived, but also about whom we value. The Times’ project Overlooked has tried to right historical wrongs by giving obituaries to figures the paper previously ignored. Rocca isn’t as ideological as that—he’s driven by the desire to absorb great facts and pass them on. The quirks of history delight and vex him. He seems genuinely aggrieved that Audrey Hepburn died on the same day as Bill Clinton’s Inauguration and didn’t get her proper due. Same goes for Farrah Fawcett, who died on the same day as Michael Jackson. (One of the book’s many humorous sidebars lists other notable people who died on the same day, in case you were wondering what Margaret Thatcher had in common with Annette Funicello.) There’s even a chapter on historic figures memorialized by rest stops on the New Jersey Turnpike—a motley bunch that includes Walt Whitman, Vince Lombardi, and Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross. Mobituaries are not reserved only for people; Rocca also revisits the ‘deaths’ of fashion trends (R.I.P., the codpiece), sitcom characters (pour one out for Judy Winslow, of ‘Family Matters’), and the country of Prussia.”
Salon: “Mo Rocca on ‘Mobituaries,’ celebrity deaths and what we get wrong about Billy Carter” — “Mo Rocca had a diverse trajectory as a TV writer and personality, from serving as a correspondent on Comedy Central’s ‘The Daily Show,’ to writing for the PBS children show ‘Wishbone,’ to most recently working as a correspondent on ‘CBS Sunday Morning.’ But despite all that living, Rocca is obsessed with death — and not in the Woody Allen sense of worrying about his own demise. Instead, Rocca is doing his best to ensure that people, along with certain things that die — like the station wagon and Prussia — get their due.
“That is the premise of Rocca’s new book, ‘Mobituaries: Great Lives Worth Reliving.’ Rocca, who I sat down with on ‘Salon Talks,’ is a dazzling vessel of vast information. In speaking with him, it became clear that on some level ‘Mobituaries’ is Rocca manifested as a book. It’s truly an incredible amount of information, often on topics you didn’t think you might be interested in, but Rocca’s detailed research and comedic flair make it compelling. For example, in his chapter ‘Heroes of the New Jersey Turnpike,’ he delves into the lives of the namesakes of the Turnpike’s rest stops, from Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross, to poet Walt Whitman to James Fenimore Cooper, author of ‘The Last of the Mohicans.’ (Being from New Jersey myself, this was especially interesting.)”
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.